Johnson receives $1.2 million Lilly Grant

October 11, 2023

students walking outside PW building

Johnson University has received a grant of $1.25 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish the Fred Craddock Center for Preaching Excellence to equip aspiring and active preachers to proclaim the gospel in their own contexts in engaging and effective ways.

The program is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Compelling Preaching Initiative. The aim of the initiative is to foster and support preaching that inspires, encourages, and guides people to come to know and love God and to live out their Christian faith more fully.

The Fred Craddock Center for Preaching Excellence will continue the legacy of one of Johnson’s most well-known alumni. Fred Craddock emerged in the world of homiletics in the early 1970s, on the heels of the social upheaval of the 1960s, when the church struggled to define its identity and to connect with the rapidly changing culture. Craddock’s analysis of culture led him to practice and teach innovative approaches to sermon form, primarily involving inductive and narrative development. The new Center will equip preachers for such cultural analysis and preaching innovation. Furthermore, in accordance with both Johnson University founder Ashley Johnson’s and Fred Craddock’s burden to help the underserved preacher, the Center will target underserved preachers in the Appalachia region that surrounds the University’s campus in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The Center’s key activities will include two-day interdisciplinary retreats; one-day lectures, workshops, and seminars; mentoring groups; and the curation of resources from the life and ministry of Fred Craddock. The University will integrate insights gained from these activities into its undergraduate and graduate preaching programs.

“Dr. Craddock has inspired generations of preachers to communicate the gospel in creative and culturally relevant ways,” says Johnson University’s president Tommy Smith. “This center will give us the opportunity to honor his work and continue his legacy for generations to come. Johnson University offers broad academic programs in Christian ministries and strategic vocations, but preaching is still at the heart of the Johnson ethos. Building on Dr. Craddock’s legacy helps us keep effective preaching at the center of the Johnson identity.”

Johnson University is one of 81 organizations receiving grants through this competitive round of the Compelling Preaching Initiative. Reflecting the diversity of Christianity in the United States, the organizations are affiliated with mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist and Pentecostal faith communities. Many of the organizations are rooted in the Black Church and in Hispanic and Asian American Christian traditions.

“Throughout history, preachers often have needed to adapt their preaching practices to engage new generations of hearers more effectively,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “We are pleased that the organizations receiving grants in this initiative will help pastors and others in ministry engage in the kinds of preaching needed today to ensure that the gospel message is heard and accessible for all audiences.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Compelling Preaching Initiative in 2022 because of its interest in supporting projects that help to nurture the religious lives of individuals and families and foster the growth and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States.